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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2395


Senator McKIERNAN —The Minister for Veterans' Affairs will be aware of calls, yet again, by leading lights in the business and farming communities, many of whom also happen to be members of the Liberal Party, proposing cuts in Government expenditure. In the last Weekend Australian National Farmers Federation supremo Ian McLachlan reiterates his organisation's support for the cessation of automatic indexation of pensions, the discounting of subsequent adjustments and the means testing of veterans' disability pensions. Is the Minister giving any serious consideration to these demands? What would be the implication for veterans and their families? I ask this question in the light of repeated calls by veterans and ex-service groups that they be exempted from further cuts because, this group of people claim, they have contributed disproportionately to cuts in the past.


Senator GIETZELT —Mr McLachlan is another of the exponents of the theory that all would come well in the Australian economy if there were substantial reductions in government spending, particularly in the welfare sector. I notice that in the article in the last Weekend Australian he went so far as to suggest that the Government ought to consider means testing war veterans' disability pensions. That suggestion has already aroused reaction within the veteran community because veterans take the view that proposals put forward by such exponents of simplistic economic theories might be considered seriously by the Government. In answering this question by Senator McKiernan I take advantage of the opportunity to say that this proposal is not on the Government's agenda. I associate myself substantially with the remarks of my colleague Senator Walsh about Mr McLachlan's other simple solutions to world-wide economic difficulties which obviously not only Australia but also the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France and Japan suffer.

Mr McLachlan is staking out the high ground for a Liberal Party seat and in so doing is suggesting that he is entitled to displace a sitting Opposition member and to take his place in the Parliament at the next election. However, his suggestion that we ought to means test war veterans' disability pensions has been very adequately answered in a letter by Mr Seymour, the National President of the Australian Federation of Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Ex-servicemen and Women Ltd, a copy of which was sent to me. He points out that TPI pensioners are those people classified as totally and permanently incapacitated, unable to engage in more than eight hours work per week solely because of disabilities recognised as being war caused. He said that 50 per cent of the membership of his organisation are permanently housebound, hospitalised or in nursing homes. The suggestion by a person expressing interest in a parliamentary career that such people should be means tested gives some indication of the lack of compassion of the person or group concerned. Obviously the New Right has its eyes on that sort of compensation which many thousands of Australian veterans receive from the Government-I would have thought with bipartisan support. Nevertheless, greedy entrepreneurs and spokespersons of the New Right seek to put forward simple solutions at the expense of those who have been unable over many years to be gainfully employed and who therefore are entitled to recognition and compensation by government. I seek leave of the Senate to incorporate in Hansard the letter that Mr Seymour, the National President of the TPI association, wrote to Mr McLachlan in response to the article in the Weekend Australian. A copy of the letter was sent to me. It states very clearly the views of his association about the simple-minded people who are able to get maximum publicity for their views and therefore to exert maximum pressure upon governments and oppositions to change long-established principles upon which the veteran movement and government responsibilities have rested.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

THE AUSTRALIAN FEDERATION OF TOTALLY AND PERMANENTLY INCAPACITATED

EX-SERVICEMEN AND WOMEN LIMITED

(INCORPORATED IN THE A.C.T.)

Office of...P.O. Box 1072,

NATIONAL PRESIDENT...City Road, Vic., 3205

Telephone: (03) 62 1676

LB.

May 4, 1987.

Mr. I. McLachlan,

President,

National Farmers' Federation,

P.O. Box E10,

Queen Victoria Terrace,

CANBERRA. A.C.T. 2600.

Dear Mr. McLachlan,

I have read with interest a short article in the Melbourne ``Age'' of 1st May wherein it is reported that the National Farmers' Federation has placed before the Federal Government a submission calling for a balanced Budget. For reasons that will become apparent as this letter progresses, I would be pleased to receive a copy of your submission or at least that part relating to the proposal to remove from Government policy the automatic indexation of pensions.

Let me make it clear at the outset that I am fully aware that short newspaper reports similar to that which I am referring do not always reflect an accurate picture, e.g. your organisation may be proposing an alternative to the indexation of pensions; in passing might I say that I sincerely trust that it has offered an alternative. For this reason I do not propose to prejudge your organisation's conclusions without at least sighting the paper and having the benefit of your conclusions on the points that I will develop in this letter.

As you will have gleaned from the title of our organisation I represent, on a National basis, the most severely disabled group of war veterans; the Veterans' Entitlements Act requires that a veteran, before being classified as totally & permanently incapacitated, be unable to engage in more than eight hours remunerative work in any one week solely because of disabilities recognised by the Department of Veterans' Affairs as being the result of his/her war service. Some of our members have met this criteria for over 40 years now. I would suggest to you that more than fifty per cent of our membership is permanently housebound, hospitalised or in nursing homes; the remainder are so seriously disabled that their lifestyle is severely restricted.

The Government makes available to war veterans (through the Department of Veterans' Affairs) an asset/income tested pension (Service Pension).

The ``income testing'' criteria for this pension is married to the Age and Invalid pensions paid through the Department of Social Security. There are some minor basic eligibility provisions for a grant of Service Pension but these are of little consequence to this exercise.

For reasons stated earlier I decline to comment in this letter on your Federation's intentions in this field. However, I feel compelled to make the point that should your proposal fail to come to grips with an equitable alternative to ``the removal of indexation on pensions'' you can be assured that the war veteran community will strenuously align itself with ``civilian'' pensioner groups in opposing the removal of indexation.

I now come to my main purpose in writing to you; this is to bring to your notice the compensatory nature of the disability pension paid to war veterans through the Department of Veterans' Affairs. A disability pension is paid only in respect of the incapacity flowing from ``injury or disease, or death'', where that injury, disease or death is determined to be war caused. This disability pension is by way of compensation for this injury, disease or death. Documentary proof of this fact is on record at various levels, however, the following extracts from Hansard are submitted by way of confirmation.

Hansard Senate. 13th November, 1985. (Extract from Second Reading Speech on Veterans' Entitlements Bill by Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator the Hon. A. T. Gietzelt)

``Compensation Pensions (my emphasis)

Part II of the V.E.B. sets out the eligibility provisions for the grant of a disability pension to a veteran, a war widow's pension to the spouse of a veteran and an orphan's pension to a dependent child. Eligibility will arise in respect of a veteran's incapacity from injury or disease or his death or her death where that injury, disease or death is determined to be war caused.''

Hansard Senate. 12th March, 1986. (page 867) (Senator Gietzelt replying to a question from Senator McKiernan)

``The Government accepts, as indeed the Opposition when in government accepted, that disability pensions are compensation for illness or disabilities arising out of war service and, therefore, compensation should not, in any way, be associated with any sort of test. A person may be a millionaire or have limited means. If he is injured in an accident the court has no regard to his station in life; it has regard to whether he should receive compensation, and that is the position of a government . . .''

For many years now these compensatory payments by way of pension have been indexed to the C.P.I.; the report that I read in the ``Age'' newspaper would seem to suggest that your Federation is advocating the removal of these payments from the indexation system.

I make the point here that Government (of any persuasion) has an inherent responsibility to honour the commitment given over the years to provide at least a reasonable level of compensation to those who have given so much to provide the environment in which the business (including the rural) community operates today.

I suggest also that it is equally appropriate that organisations such as the Federation that you represent and other organisations representing business interests should not lose sight of the debt that this community owes to the war veteran who has suffered significantly because of his war service.

I am sure that the war veteran himself would support any reasonable moves to salve the economic ills that ail this country; after all he has given more than most to retain the freedom that we now enjoy. Despite this he suffered severe ``cut backs'' in the May 1985 Financial Statement and awaits the 1987 Statement with trepidation. These fears are strengthened almost daily by calls emanating from business (and allied) interests for further disproportionate cuts; disproportionate when compared to some other sectors of the community.

I think we should acknowledge, Sir, that we both have at least one thing in common, i.e. we are lobbyists in the interests of our members. It is here that I must sound a word of warning; let us not in our zeal adopt a ``Robin Hood or Robin Hood in reverse'' attitude in our approach to Government depending on which side of the fence we sit.

I would be pleased to receive your comments on my observations particularly in relation to payment of compensation to war veterans. I would also, as I said earlier, appreciate receiving a copy (or part thereof) of your Federation's submission.

I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Yours sincerely,

H. G. SEYMOUR,

National President.